Vatican says no reason to close Jamesville's St. Mary's Church

Signs mark the closed doors of St. Mary's Church in this file photo

Parishioners of a shuttered Catholic church in suburban Syracuse are urging the local bishop to reopen it in time for Christmas after receiving a second decree from the Vatican that says there was no valid reason to close it.

In a statement from the Diocese of Syracuse says the decree upholds the merger of St. Mary TMs parish in Jamesville with Holy Cross parish in Dewitt. St. Mary TMs as a parish will no longer exist. It has joined Holy Cross. The majority of St. Mary TMs parishioners have become active worshiping members of Holy Cross faith community.

Advocates for parishioners of St. Mary's Church in Jamesville filed an emergency motion on Monday with the Vatican demanding that Bishop Robert J. Cunningham take prompt action to reopen it.

"The opening of the Church of St. Mary, I think, is the most important development under canon law in the whole Catholic church in 2011," said Peter Borre of the Council of Parishes. "The bishop has received two categorical orders from the highest tribunal in the Vatican. It is up to the bishop to obey the law of the Catholic church."

A call seeking comment from the diocese was not immediately returned.

A Christmas prayer service was scheduled for Tuesday evening at St. Mary's to celebrate the positive outcome of the appeal.

"We're hopeful that we will reopen," said Colleen LaTray, a member of the St. Mary's committee that organized the church's appeal. LaTray said the church was assured "that the Syracuse Diocese will follow canonical precepts."

The Vatican Supreme Court also ruled in May that St. Mary's had to remain a Catholic worship site. The Diocese of Syracuse says that Holy Cross will be looking into ways in which it can be used occasionally such as for funerals and weddings.

James Moynihan, former bishop of the Syracuse Diocese, announced in 2006 that a priest from nearby DeWitt would continue to say mass at St. Mary's, and that decision was upheld by a Vatican ruling.

Then, in April 2007 the diocese announced the church would close and parishioners filed an appeal asking why a financially solvent parish should be closed. The 112-year-old church has about 1,000 parishioners, according to LaTray.

Last month, the Vatican's highest court upheld the decision of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield to close three western Massachusetts parishes, including one that's been occupied by worshippers protesting its closure since December 2008.

The Apostolic Signatura, however, found that Springfield's Bishop Timothy McDonnell did not provide sufficient reasons to justify downgrading the churches to secular buildings, which is required before the churches can be sold.

Borre said one parishioner group from the Springfield diocese on Monday received a decision similar to St. Mary's regarding one parish church.

The Syracuse diocese has more than 250,000 Catholics and includes Onondaga, Broome, Chenango, Cortland, Madison, Oneida and Oswego counties in upstate New York.

(Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.)

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